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Pentax Q review

Verdict

A charming new take on the mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera, but not really for the serious photographer

Review Date: 8 Nov 2011

Reviewed By: Dave Stevenson

Price when reviewed: £500 (£600 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
2 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

The template for a mirrorless camera is tried and tested: a large body, an APS-C sensor, and a few lenses and accessories to help smaller, cheaper kit bridge the gap between compacts and DSLRs.

The Pentax Q takes a different approach – it’s tiny compared to the likes of Sony’s NEX-C3, at only 98mm wide and 31mm deep, and its sensor has also been subjected to a shrink-ray. Where the APS-C sensors found in other mirrorless cameras measure about 24mm wide and 17mm tall, the Q’s is around 6 x 4mm.

It still contains 12 million rather tightly spaced pixel sites, though. That means image quality, while good, can’t compete with other mirrorless cameras – think of the Q as being more a very flexible compact than a true alternative to a DSLR. Images look fine viewed in their entirety, but zooming in or cropping reveals a fair amount of softness and noise.

Pentax Q - front shot

Instead of a motorised, permanent lens there’s a DSLR-style lens mount and a range of lenses ranging from the 8.5mm (47mm equivalent) f1.9 prime that came with our review unit, to a more standard 5-15mm (27.5-83mm equivalent) zoom. There’s also a 3.2mm (17.5mm) fisheye lens with a 170-degree field of view. It’s a decent amount of choice for a keen consumer, but not a patch on the number of choices you’d have if you spent the same amount on a DSLR.

Take the lens off and the Q resembles any other smart compact camera. There’s a small rounded edge on the right-hand side acting as a grip, while the back is occupied primarily by a large 3in LCD. The buttons look too small to be of any practical use, but in reality they’re just about okay, if a touch close together.

The top of the camera is a pleasant surprise. You get a proper mode dial, complete with manual, aperture and shutter priority, and program modes, making this a good choice for those frustrated with the mode selection on offer from most compacts. There’s also a jog wheel to help you scroll quickly through options or shutter speeds.

A supplementary dial on the front can be assigned various functions; by default it shuffles through a series of image treatments, such as the popular lomography-style effect. Image stability is provided through the sensor, and works well. We managed to get steady exposures down to one-fifth of a second.

Pentax Q - top down

The well-concealed flash is a pop-up job. It springs up quite a long way from the camera body on a complex hinged mechanism, although it will still fire via a custom menu setting if it’s not popped up. Despite the fine-tuned mechanics, it feels pretty secure, but we wouldn’t like it to accidentally spring up in a crowded bag. Unusually for a compact, there’s also a hotshoe, which is compatible with all Pentax’s existing flash units.

The only dedicated Q series accessory is a large optical viewfinder, and given the excellent 100% coverage LCD, we’d advise you keep your credit card in your pocket, not least because the viewfinder costs well over £200.

And that’s the problem with the Q. It’s a desirable camera: it looks good, is just about pocketable and takes good pictures for a device with such a small sensor.

However, by the time you’ve saved up enough for a Q, you’ll have enough cash for something such as the Canon EOS 600D or the Nikon D5100, both of which take far superior pictures, besides being compatible with a vast number of consumer and professional lenses. For fashionistas this may be worth a look, but photographers should look elsewhere, despite the Q’s charms.

Author: Dave Stevenson

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User comments

That must be a mistake...

...your article says it costs 600 quid, that can't be right. Not for a plastic camera with what roughly equates to 1/2.3" sensor. The Lumix LX5 easily trumps that (1/1.63") for half the cost.

If you want a camera with interchangeable lenses then buy a proper SLR.

If you want something small and compact buy a proper compact camera.

If you've got 600 quid knocking around then buy both not this.

By drajs on 8 Nov 2011

Would have to question two points here.
If the sensor is only 6x4mm then it is not an aps-c sensor.
Also you say mirrorless cameras are large bodied. Wasn't the whole point of this tech to make them quite a bit smaller than normal dslr's?!
Although this takes it too extremes I would say all mirrorless designs are releatively compact.

Together isn't this really a bridge compact with changeable lenses than a genuine mirrorless slr system?

By bit_byte on 9 Nov 2011

"However, by the time you’ve saved up enough for a Q, you’ll have enough cash for something such as the Canon EOS 600D or the Nikon D5100, both of which take far superior pictures."

Whilst this is true (and I kind of see your point) I doubt someone in the market for a Pentax Q would want to substitute this for a full sized DSLR. Surely the benefit to the Q is its diminutive size?

Not that I'd have one for the money mind you. If in the market for a small compact system camera for the £600 asking price I'd be more inclined to look at Panasonic and Olympus offerings or even APS-C models from Sony (NEX) and Samsung (NX200).

By pveater on 9 Nov 2011

Shirley some mistake?

If the sensor really managed to pack 12 million pixels into 6x4mm that would mean a density that would allow 432 MegaPixels in a standard 35mm sensor (36x24mm) - which seems a little optimistic.

By qpw3141 on 9 Nov 2011

@qpw3141

Actually 1/2.3" sensor (roughly 6 x 4.5 mm) is pretty much standard in compact point-and-shoot cameras. Some of them (canon powershot for instance) manage to cram 16 megapixels into the same area, further sacrificing the image quality. On the other hand, typical mobile phone sensor is 2.4 x 1.8 mm, so 5 megapixel mobile phone camera would be an equivalent of 1 gigapixel full frame :-)

By Lomskij on 9 Nov 2011

Where's the viewfinder?

How can anyone take photographs without a viewfinder? Composing shots on a screen, held at an awkward angle away from the body, is not conducive to good composition or comfort.

BRING BACK THE VIEWFINDER.

By bygwyg on 10 Nov 2011

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